Damsel in Distress or the Realist Woman’s fear?

So this past weekend I made the 10-hour journey up to Rhode Island from my native state of Virginia. Between the traffic and the bad drivers I knew my long trevail up I-95 wouldn’t be an easy day. In fact, the 10 hours stretched out over 12 hours because of one little thing that went wrong: my tire blew out.

I felt my front right tire hit the pavement then clunk heavily on every rotation. Of course, I pulled over, hoping that everything was somehow okay. It wasn’t. Although it was nearly 11 PM, I could see that I had almost completely shredded my tire. I had barely made it out of New York City, and the shoulder where my car and I were “resting” was hardly wide enough to keep the 18-wheelers from hitting us.

I had imagined this situation before, but I never imagined how scared I would be. When my older sister and I were kids, she would run around the house locking doors as soon as my mother left, afraid a “burglar” would come and take us while my mother was over at the neighbors borrowing sugar. I, however, would laugh brazenly, confident that no burglar would come. Well, let me tell you, I was definitely NOT laughing on the side of I-95.

I called my dad, who spend the next 40 minutes typing away on the computer trying to find a “suitable” tire repair shop to help me. (If you think I should have changed the tire myself, you’re crazy. There was hardly enough room for me to squeeze my head between the guard rail and the tire itself, how was I going to change a freaking tire in the dark with traffic whizzing by? no thank you).

When my dad hung up, trying to concentrate his efforts on the internet search, I weighed my options. Staying on the side of the road was a frightening enough experience for anyone. The tractor-trailers were flying by, and if one drifted to the right even just the slightest my little Honda and I would be crushed like warm blueberries in Saturday’s pancakes. SPLAT. there goes my guts and Amherst education all over the side of the highway.

So staying put didn’t look too appealing. My other option? (note, this is the “best case scenario”) Pay for a auto repair shop to tow my car to a remote location and fix my tire. Doesn’t sound so bad until you think of the long ride alone with a strange man. Then the remote location with the strange man. Then the many hours when no one else is awake…How much more vulnerable to rape could I have been? When I envisioned getting my tire fized, I felt more safe standing on the side of the highway, and I found myself dreading the imminent arrival of some repair man.

If one in four women experience sexual assault or rape, and if sexual assault and rape are crimes of opportunity, then I was certainly at risk, considering my situation.

Then, I saw flashing lights, and a state trooper pulled over behind me. I started crying in sheer joy. “Now, why are you crying?” he said. Why do all guys have to ask this? I guess men just don’t have the carnal fear of rape? I can’t imagine my life without this fear, it’s just a part of my natural awareness. I’m just always alert to this danger–maybe men just never have to think about it? I’d love comments on this from the guys!

Anyway, the state trooper calmed me down, urged me to “limp” my car down the exit ramp and off of I-95, so he could change my tire for me. He clearly had other people to tend to. The calls kept going off on his radio, but he made it very clear to me that he thought I was a sitting duck, inviting danger. I was infinitely grateful that he recognized both my fear and my danger, and allowed me to continue on my journey without having to rely on some strange unknown man.

While I’d like to be treated equally as a woman, I can’t help but think that I should get an unequal proportion of a policeman’s help because I’m a woman and because I face greater danger. Maybe it’s wrong, but I think it’s honest. I think that I need more protection, and it doesn’t make me a damsel in distress, it makes me realistic about the dangers that I face as a woman.